Andover Remembers First Addison Curator Charles Sawyer ’24

Charles Sawyer ’24, the alumnus largely responsible for the introduction of arts education at Phillips Academy, died last week near his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was 98 years old. As the first curator of the Addison Gallery of American Art, Sawyer was an “elegant and gracious” man, according to current Addision Curator Susan Faxon. Sawyer, an Andover native, graduated from Phillips Academy in 1924 before going on to Yale University, where he received his Bachelor’s Degree in 1929. After graduating from Yale, he enrolled at Harvard Law School, but abandoned his studies in law in 1930, when Phillips Academy Trustee Thomas Cochran, class of 1890, asked him to run the fledgling Addison Gallery. The Addison Gallery of American Art opened its doors in 1931 with Sawyer at its head. In 1931, there were very few museums dedicated exclusively to American art, and the Addison’s unique collection attracted many visitors and much praise. Sawyer worked hard to grow the Gallery’s collection by bringing many fine works to the Addison. He also invited contemporary artists to come to the Addison and sponsored many new and innovative exhibitions. John Sloan, Maurice Prendergast, and Edward Hopper all came to the Addison under the tenure of Sawyer and are now considered among the great American artists. Despite his lack of experience with the arts, Sawyer quickly learned the business of running a museum. He proved to be an excellent curator, developing both the gallery’s prestigious collection of art and its distinguished reputation. Sawyer was also instrumental in the founding of Andover’s art program. When the Addison opened in 1931, Andover did not offer any classes in art. Sawyer thought it was important not only for students to study art, but also to make it. Sawyer used his own money to hire an art instructor, Bartlett Hayes, to teach studio art classes in the basement of the Addison Gallery. The classes were a success, and Sawyer eventually convinced Andover to pay the art instructor’s salary and to begin offering art courses. However, Andover’s art department stayed in the basement of the Addison until 1962, when the Elson Art Center opened in George Washington Hall. Sawyer left the Addison in 1940 to serve as the curator of the Worcester Museum of Art. Sawyer remained an active and influential contributor to the Addison Gallery throughout his life. He maintained close relationships with the curators of the Addison, who often consulted with him about the gallery’s collection and the evolution of its vision. During World War II, Sawyer worked for the O.S.S., the precursor to the C.I.A. As part of the O.S.S., Sawyer worked with the Roberts Commission to document pieces of art stolen by the Nazis and to return them to their rightful owners. After the war, Sawyer worked at Yale University, where he received an honorary Master’s Degree in 1947. At Yale, Sawyer became the Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Director of the College of Art, Architecture, and Drama. With architect Louis Kahn he oversaw an enlargement of the Yale University Art Gallery. Sawyer also played an important role in the creation of a new Department of Design at Yale in 1950. In 1957, Sawyer became the Director of the University of Michigan’s Museum of Art. At the University of Michigan he pioneered the Museum Practice Program, an innovative program that trained young art scholars to become museum curators. Many of Sawyer’s students have since gone on to become curators of major museums. In 1972 Sawyer retired from the University of Michigan to live out the rest of his life at his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The University of Michigan plans to name its new Center for Museum Studies in his honor.